A ’60s-Inspired Palette of Tiles Makes This Mid-Century Feel More Modern
An excerpt from Studio Shamshiri’s debut monograph.
Published Sep 6, 2023 1:44 PM
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Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen Studio Shamshiri’s work. The design firm, founded by brother-sister duo Pamela and Ramin Shamshiri, is behind some of our favorite hotels, has a track record for setting trends, and has been highly sought after by world-class brands and celebrities for its signature mix of California bohemia, East Coast glamour, and classic European panache. In Shamshiri: Interiors, the designers’ debut monograph, we not only get a peek at nine of their best projects around the globe, but we get a master class on the art of decorating and a life filled with beauty.
In this excerpt, one client’s quest for a fresh start and a welcoming haven for his daughters after a divorce starts with a renewed take on mid-century modern design through tile work and ends with the llama-printed sheets he promised his girls.
As with so many of our projects, the client came to us at a moment of transition. He had separated from his wife, and he was looking for a suitable home he could share with his two young daughters. He conveyed that he wanted something welcoming and cozy for the girls, something easy to maintain. He was mostly looking at cool, modernist glass houses with open plans; the girls’ only request was for bedsheets with little llamas on them. As we continued our discussion, the client shared incredible photos of his recent travels and adventures. He was excited by the sense of discovery and possibility that accompanied this new period of uncertainty in his life. I assured him that this is one of the great bonuses of starting a new chapter—you get to set up your life exactly the way you want. I had been through a similar process myself a year earlier, so I could definitely empathize.
The house my client ultimately alighted upon was familiar. I’d looked at it myself when I was searching for a new home for me and my boys. I found such an ease and natural way of life built into the architecture. The floor plan was thoughtful, precise, and restrained, laid out in a clean L-shape, immediately reminiscent of the work of Richard Neutra. As it turns out, Robert Kennard, a leading Black architect of his time, worked as an associate in Neutra’s office when he designed the 2,300-square-foot residence for his family in 1961. Our client bought it directly from Kennard’s daughter, who had lived there since she was 8 years old. She’d maintained the place exactly as her father had intended. Along with the house itself, she turned over a book of receipts cataloging every purchase made for the property. Now in her 60s, she is part of a foundation dedicated to preserving mid-century architecture in Los Angeles. I read a quote of hers that really resonated for me: “To honor my dad, the best thing I could do is honor the work he put forth.”
Le Corbusier famously described a house as “a machine for living in.” Kennard’s architecture certainly fits the bill. Eminently functional and efficient, everything is built in and streamlined like a ship’s cabin, with very few pieces of furniture floating in the space. It was clear we needed to stay true to that vision in our rendition, not least because it dovetailed neatly with our client’s envisioned lifestyle. His kids would live in the house with him part-time, and he’d be able to travel and entertain at his leisure.
We left all the rooms in their original locations, but we opened the kitchen so that it can speak to both the living room and breakfast nook. Now the kitchen is the heart of the house, intimately connected to the other social areas. The style of the new cabinetry stays true to the house’s mid-century roots while placing a premium on function. There is a dedicated spot for everything.
Every drawer and cabinet has a purpose. I’ve found that proper storage is the key to living happily in smaller footprints. As much as we were moved by the thoughtfulness of the house’s conception and the quality of the interior details, something crucial was missing—light. I was living in a Rudolph Schindler house at the time, and we’d always move through the V-shaped plan of the house with walls of glass and trees on one side. Everything was side-lit, morning to night. Fernanda Tarr, our senior director of architecture, kept urging me to open up the hallway of the Kennard house with a wall of glass to the poolside, but I was set on preserving the original architecture. I kept thinking of Kennard’s daughter and the notebook of receipts. One day, Fernanda said, “What if Kennard couldn’t afford all this glass?” It was something to consider. After all, the pool is on the same side of the wall as the iconic Hollywood sign. Fernanda, predictably, was right. We decided to bring in a new wall of glass and side-light the whole thing. The house now opens out to the pool, the Hollywood sign, and the soft, lovely garden by Terremoto. It’s so captivating at every hour.
We made three sweeping moves with color. To highlight the architecture, we stained the posts and beams a very dark color, almost black. The value shift from the dark beams to the white overhead planes makes the relatively low ceiling feel a bit higher. Then we opted for an off-white stone floor to bounce light up into the dark rooms. We chose Benjamin Moore’s Turtle Green, a color rooted in nature, for the walls. The green brings the outside in while fostering a sense of nurturing calm.
Our client is in the business of European stone and tile, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play with some incredible materials. For the floors, we used marble, cut into tiles and stacked in a manner appropriate for a modernist house. The bathrooms all feature handmade zellige tile from Morocco. To give them a modern kick, we cut them in skinny strips and layered them—a mix of warm whites in the primary bath, and a blue for the kids’ bath. For added pops of color, we used aubergine-hued cement tiles in the kitchen and bright blue glazed terracotta in the powder room. The colors felt as if they were drawn from a palette of 1960s laminates.
When everyone was hunkered down in 2020, one of the first people to text me was our client. Lockdown was the first time he had spent a considerable amount of time in his new home. He told me that the color, open floor plan, and natural light brought the family great joy and that he had never fully realized just how efficient all the details were. With every new home we design, I always feel like we’re passing on a new way of living, hopefully one of greater quality and clarity. This project provided eloquent proof that design matters in the most profound way. And yes, the girls got their llama sheets.